No One Knows My Plan
They Might Be Giants, from the album John Henry

Lyrics and Music by John Flansburgh and John Linnell

There aren't many songs that reference Plato's Allegory of the Cave and get away with it. Heck, there aren't many songs that reference it, period... this song, in fact, is the only one I can think of. This is a fun song, with conga rhythms and lots of brass. There are a number of differing opinions regarding the possible subject of this song (as is the case with most They Might Be Giants songs). A generally accepted theory finds the narrator of the song in prison:

In my prison cell, I think these words:
I was careless,
I can see that now.

Pretty straight-forward. The prisoner was somehow "careless," which has led to his current incarcerated state. What did he do to land himself in prison? We don't find out. We don't even really find out if he's guilty or innocent. "I was careless" leads us to think that he's guilty, but the next verse makes it seem like he might be innocent.

When I made a shadow on my window shade,
They called the police and testified.
But they're like the people chained up in the cave
In the allegory of the people in the cave by the Greek guy

How did the prisoner end up being caught? Well, it would appear that someone saw his silhouette in the window and ratted him out for something. "But wait," you say. "What's the deal with the Greek guy?" The Greek guy is Plato, and this refers to a section of The Republic known as the Allegory of the Cave, which is about how knowledge shapes perception (see this node for a more detailed description). Tie-in to the song? In the allegory, the people in the cave look at shadows on a wall. Since they have never seen anything outside of the cave, they can't truly grasp what could be creating the shadows - their lack of knowledge prevents them from being able to understand what they see. Likewise, the prisoner feels that the people who testified against him couldn't have had a full understanding of what they saw through the window shade. The first time I ever heard this line, I almost crashed my car - you gotta dig an off-handed reference to Plato.

This is just my version of the popular prison interpretation of this song. There is always disagreement as to the meanings of TMBG songs, even when the Johns themselves explain a song ("Yeah, they SAY that's what it's about, but I think it's actually about the resurgence of swing music in the 90's...")

CST Approved

And a note to the one I've dubbed "Genius Softlinker": I'm neither angsty nor a teen. This writeup is neither angsty or a teen. Find something new, eh?

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